On Lenten relenting
Confession: I used to be a Lenten overachiever. For years I approached this penitential season with gusto, plotting the most thorough fasts I could, the ones I’d secretly draw great satisfaction from completing. And it’s not even that I’d do them to be seen. In fact, when people would ask what I was giving up for Lent, I’d say, “Telling people what I’m giving up for Lent.” But it’s not that I had the humility of that tax collector who wouldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven, or that I was merely being careful not to perform my supposedly righteous deeds in order that people would see them—I took great pride in my secretive fasts, sure I was giving off an especial air of holiness.
Happily, those days are over. I’ve come to terms with my smug ways and have confronted my proclivity for, in fact, failing, sometimes miserably, to follow through. What can I say, I’m a person of extremes. I find the pendulum swinging freely back and forth—between ambition and laziness, pride and self-abnegation, eagerness and resignation. It brings me pause, this tendency of mine. For once, I’d love to settle in (or at least near!) the middle, where moderation and virtue and steadiness are found.
Do you ever have deep thoughts or great ideas in the unlikeliest of places, at the most improbable times? The other night, as I was drifting off to sleep after a long and full day, in between a hazy wakefulness and the sweetness of slumber, having been mulling over these Lenten quandaries of mine, it came: Receive His love. This thought pierced through my clouded mind, lodged there till morning. And when I awoke, it remained, ready to be turned over and considered and explored.
So, turn over and consider and explore I did. For so long, my approach to Lent has been one of great determination. Determination to please God, to embrace self-denial, to come out on the other end of 40 days having decreased, even a little, to allow Him to increase in me. And those desires are all good, yes. But so rarely have I asked Jesus, What do You want of me? What do You desire for this time? What shall we do together? So faithful is He that He gave me the answer to the questions I neglected to ask. Receive my love.
I think of those vague plans I’ve made for this upcoming Lenten season: Wear only 10 items of clothing. Stop listening to music. Cut way back on social media. Stop being a jerk of a driver. It’s entirely possible I’ll hold fast to those. But what a gift it’s been to reframe my approach entirely, making it my aim to receive the love of Jesus. It’s been easy for me to think of fasting as a time to strong-arm myself into submission, but I’m beginning to see it entirely differently now. If I look at these small sacrifices as ways to receive divine love, just imagine the transformative potential these 40 days have. For if I begin Ash Wednesday with an eager expectation of receptivity, a hope of clearing away those sometimes invisible blocks to the love I crave, surely Jesus can change me—and however He wants, not however I fancy will best suit me.
As Lent fast approaches, I’m readying myself to receive love in a way like never before. And upon receiving that love, I expect, with joy, that I will be moved to give it away lavishly. And happily, it will all be from my Creator and Sustainer and Divine Lover, not from the cockles of my little, imperfect heart. No strong-arming required.
I’d love to know: what are your hopes this Lent? How do you approach this season and make your plans? Have you dreamt of how Jesus can change you?